By the time Jessica Fielding was 13 years old, she was on probation and had been in juvenile hall. But that all changed after she joined the Criminal Justice Academy as a student at Hiram Johnshon High School.
The Sacramento Police Department-run criminal justice program at local high schools is tackling issues related to police trust and how authorities can better reflect the community they serve in a positive way.
"My entire family is from Oak Park, and so I come from a family that is not the perfect family and has gotten into quite a bit of trouble with law enforcement," Fielding said. "Coming to a criminal justice program, I already had a negative view of law enforcement."
Fielding was a self-proclaimed troublemaker, but she says all of that changed when she joined the Sacramento Police Department Magnet Academy at Hiram Johnson High School.
"I think it had something to do with the fact that most of my teachers were Caucasian," Fielding explained. "They weren't Hispanic or African-American or anything like that. So coming into a classroom where I saw somebody who looked like the neighborhood I went home to and that talked like the neighborhood I went to and was an officer, just completely broke any gap between me and Officer [Samuel] Davis."
Officer Samuel Davis, Jr. is right at home with the teens. He was recently honored at Raley Field as he prepares to retire from the police department after 28 years of service.
"He's an incredible role model and mentor, and really a father into my life," Fielding said. "He helped me get my first job. I worked for Sac PD throughout college for five years. He helped me get into college."
The program is helping to shape the lives of more than 400 cadets spread out across four area high schools — John F. Kennedy, Hiram Johnson, C.K. McClatchy, and Grant Union.
"I think seeing the text messages of, 'I just bought my first car. I just bought my first home.' — those type of things," Davis said, explaining the reason he loves heading the program. "I'm smiling from ear to ear for months at a time, because I know that I had a little bit to do with that."
Fielding and Davis agree the academy is working in helping to improve the relationship with police and the community they serve.
"Seeing them in an atmosphere at school when they are not arresting, and they are not having to enforce the law," Fielding said. "They are here for a more pro-social reason — completely bridges that gap with students and law enforcement."
That's why Davis is planning to come back to the classroom full-time.
"[I have to] try to continue to recreate Jessica and recreate that situation," Davis said. "There are some that have become correctional officers. Some have become police officers, but this is real. The Sacramento Police Department makes this real. They back every single thing that we want to do in these programs."